– INSPIRATION FOR AFRICAN GUYANESE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ENTREPRENEURIAL BONANZA
FEBRUARY is commemorated as ‘Black History Month’ in the USA. It was first formulated by the Afro-American academic Carter Woodson in 1926 to counterbalance the studied ignoring of the important contributions African American men and women had made to American life and to bring to the fore and remind all Americans of the achievements of African-American people.
People of African descent would then feel a sense of pride, confidence and capability and begin to earn the respect of their white compatriots. February was chosen as it was the month in which both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born. These were considered the two greatest American slave emancipators. In 1976, President Gerald Ford gave recognition to the Day, and thereafter a few other countries gave recognition to it.
In Guyana, it is largely commemorated by organisations and groups dedicated to the preservation and promotion of African culture. Persons of African-Guyanese descent and their achievements are highlighted, and ways are put forward to improve the socio-economic conditions of the community. These laudable aims have not attracted much involvement in Black History Month by other racial groups, because some politicians feel that they should mobilise support by racial appeals, and in so doing, they stimulate adversarial racial feelings and if other groups are involved, they could steal their thunder.
Before the advent of linking race and politics, Guyanese people of all racial groups happily participated in and cooperated and assisted each other in their varied religious and cultural activities and even recognised their familial linkages. They understood that the people of Guyana were inextricably intertwined and if any one racial group, as a group, were to hurt or disadvantage any other group, all would ultimately be hurt and be disadvantaged. Similarly, if any group or groups prospered, all will ultimately share in the prosperity. It is well to resurrect the old wisdom that all groups should be allowed, if they wished, to be involved in each other’s social, economic and cultural activities, since this could only redound to the benefit of all.
With Black History Month, the media and organisations and individuals involved in African Culture should resuscitate the memories of the hundreds of African Guyanese who have done so much for Guyana and ultimately for all racial groups. For example, there were great lawyers such as J.O.F. Haynes; great doctors like Dr Frank Williams; great leaders such as Walter Rodney; labour leaders such as Critchlow or the numerous persons who have helped to build and enrich Guyanese education and culture, such as Lynette Dolphin, “Billy” Pilgrim, Eusi Kwayana, Arthur Seymour or legendary schoolmasters such as Sharples and D.J. Richmond.
One of the most important facets of life in which there needs to be greater African-Guyanese involvement is in the entrepreneurial and financial aspects. African Guyanese have always been able to earn and acquire wealth, but like most Guyanese people, they have not been able as a group to use wealth to generate further wealth. The best way to develop entrepreneurial/financial skills is not by classroom lectures, but by having personal guidance from an established entrepreneur. African cultural groups could ask established entrepreneurs to accord such help. The late Dr Yesu Persaud had given such guidance to several start-ups and small businesses who had approached him.
In the last quarter of the 19th century and early 20th century, large numbers of mostly African-Guyanese pork-knockers had earned large sums of money from the gold mines they had discovered, but they did not know what to do with the money except consume it in any fashion. For example, there are stories of pork-knockers lighting their cigarettes with currency notes! Had there been any kind of financial guidance, these porknockers would have been able to use the banking system or learn how and where to invest their wealth. Incidentally, it is these same mines that the old pork-knockers had discovered which are now being worked by technologically advanced foreign companies who make millions in profits.
Or there was the Village Movement in the 1840s when emancipated slaves and their immediate descendants purchased abandoned sugar estates, built thousands of houses, laid down roads and drainage systems and created a new social and cultural life. The Congregational Church was particularly strong in these villages and they were committed to education. The Village Movement was one of the finest moments of Guyanese History. These freedmen showed remarkable entrepreneurial ability in saving their very small incomes and investing in abandoned sugar estates, but they did not enter the second entrepreneurial phase of creating coconut or cocoa farms, or becoming peasant cane farmers and so on.
The entrepreneurial spirit is still strong as shown when there were severe shortages of imported goods in the 1970s and 1980s and when numerous African Guyanese went abroad and brought in goods to satisfy the market. This spirit is also evident in the number of pavement sellers of various types of goods. With guidance and exploitation of the credit facilities which the state and the banks are now making available, these sellers could develop into small shops and even move into small manufacturing.
African Guyanese workers, tradesmen and entrepreneurs must quickly and energetically be involved in the oil and gas industry and take full advantage of the Local Content Legislation. They must contact the oil and gas Ministry of Natural Resources in respect of the opportunities available and also in respect of the scholarships and other training on offer. The African Guyanese Cultural Organizations must seize this opportunity of helping to usher in an economic Renaissance in the African-Guyanese population.